Evslin: ‘I was pretty sure I was dying’

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i native Luke Evslin was seriously injured during the Moloka‘i Hoe canoe race Sunday when he was run over by his crew’s escort boat. He remains in stable condition at Maui Memorial Medical Center, Evslin said Monday afternoon from his hospital bed.

Right when he jumped from the escort boat to make a three-person crew change, a wave hit the boat, sending it overtop of him.

When the bottom of the boat and propeller hit Evslin, 25, he said he thought he had been cut in half and was relieved to reach back and feel much of his body.

“I felt the prop go through me,” he said, noting feeling “pulp” where his back skin used to be.

He swam to the surface and started screaming and the two other paddlers who were supposed to enter the six-person canoe during the partial crew change came to his aid, helping him back into the escort boat, which had quickly turned around to aid the men who were competing in the annual Moloka‘i-to-O‘ahu outrigger canoe race.

Evslin recalls lying on the floor of the boat and, based on the terrified looks on the faces of the boat crew and paddlers, he thought the end was near.

“I was pretty sure I was dying,” he said. The paddlers jumped on his back to provide direct pressure to control the bleeding and later told him they could see his spinal cord, he said.

The ocean was too rough to allow an airlift from the boat, or even his transfer to a larger boat for an emergency evacuation, so the escort boat returned to Hale O Lono Harbor on Moloka‘i. The trip takes around an hour, which he recalled as both the longest 60 minutes of his life and a time to reflect on all his blessings.

“That whole hour seemed like eternity,” he said, noting it gave him time to feel the love surrounding him on the boat and the love of his family from afar.

“I wasn’t scared of death in the slightest,” Evslin said. He felt enveloped by a “feeling of total love.”

When the boat reached Hale O Lono Harbor, paramedics were waiting. He was stabilized at Moloka‘i General Hospital and flown by helicopter to Maui Memorial Medical Center, as the weather was too bad for him to be flown to Honolulu, he said.

On Maui, three surgeons worked on him simultaneously, treating him for the outside wounds to his back and a “knicked” spine, broken pelvis and bruised kidney, but nothing he can’t fully recover from, he said.

Evslin plans to leave the hospital Friday and in three months be back in the ocean, he said. To win his hospital release, all he has to do is prove he can walk with a walker and sit up long enough to make the plane ride from Kahului to either Honolulu or Kaua‘i.

While he lives on O‘ahu now, he is considering rehabilitating on Kaua‘i, he said.

On Monday, he was in stable condition, though he said he lost a lot of blood. He didn’t know how many pints he needed. Also on Monday, he stood up for the first time since the accident, he said.

Evslin is the son of Dr. and Mrs. Lee Evslin of Wailua Homesteads. His fiancé, Sokchea Eng, and Dr. Evslin flew to Maui to be with him.

The escort boat captain also called and visited him. “He’s more shooken up than me,” said Evslin, whose doctors and nurses on Maui have told him their greatest concern is possible infection of the spinal column.

The canoe crew continued on without making the change, so the nine-person crew became a six-man Ironman team slicing through the entire Ka‘iwi Channel, 41 miles, in very difficult conditions.

They were finishing the race before the escort boat got back to them, and the boat’s crew conveyed the news that Evslin had been injured and may not have survived, because at that time they didn’t know his condition, Evslin said.

Brian Curll, president of Wailua’s Hui O Mana Ka Pu‘uwai Outrigger Canoe Club, said he spoke Monday with Evslin’s mother, who detailed the extent of the injuries to his spine, back muscles and side.

“He is in a great deal of pain and is presently on a self-administered morphine drip so that he can attempt to keep himself comfortable and reduce muscle contractions so that he does not re-tear himself,” Curll said in an e-mail.

Curll said Evslin has been able to be online and has looked at posts on www.ocpaddler.com, an ocean paddler website. Well-wishers can leave messages for him at that site.

Carlton Helm, in a post on the website, said Evslin was injured while making the first change off La‘au Point, Moloka‘i.

“He was severely propped and incurred injuries that he stated if it was an inch higher, or lower, from the initial area of injury, would have been fatal,” Helm said.

• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

• Paul C. Curtis, assistant editor and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or pcurtis@kauaipubco.com.

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